Author: Ken Carlson

“It’s just outer space,” said Mrs. Evans. “So what?”

The boy could hardly contain himself. “So what…” said Tommy Phipps, her most curious 7th-grade student. He paced before her desk. The prescription sunglasses he wore to school, the ones that masked his emotions, were flopping about with his agitation. She could see his eyes now set in a permanent squint.

“I stand by my remark, Mr. Phipps,” she said, fifteen minutes after the 3:00 bell, and he was still badgering her while she was putting away her things into a tattered beach bag. She took a moment to sigh and wonder if she was too old for law school.

“Mrs. Evans,” said Tommy, “space is the reason we live. The planets, the stars, the constellations, the unfathomable layers of matter stretching into a nearly infinite distance; they must be explored by this country, this planet. Mankind must move forward or all will be lost.”

“School is over for the day. You are on my time now,” said Mrs. Evans. “The assignment was to write a 3-page book report on Johnny Tremain, a significant book about the Revolutionary War. You turned in a 400-page study.” She paused to lift the heavy binder and thumbed through it. “It is replete with tables, graphs, tabs, and information on a make-believe galaxy.”

“It’s not make-believe,” said Tommy.

“I googled it, Mr. Phipps,” she replied. “There is no such thing as the Bentallium Galaxy. I assume this report was purchased by you, possibly part of a fantasy board game…”

“You googled it?” he asked, perplexed. “Is that what passes for research nowadays?”

“Mr. Phipps!” said Mrs. Evans, raising her voice in impatience, “Keep your remarks to yourself. If you don’t leave this instant I will call Mr. Nelson, the vice-principal.” She jangled her keys as she pulled them from her purse. She walked to the classroom door, her block heels clip-clopping along the way.

Tommy slowly shook his head, walking after her, blocking her exit. “You have no idea, Mrs. Evans, how disappointing this is. You were selected; a teacher, your people’s instigator of curiosity for young people.”

“It’s Friday,” she said, “I’m very tired. We can discuss this Monday after the standardized tests. That is our focus here, Mr. Phipps.”

“Mrs. Evans,” he said, trying to rally one more time, “The Bentallium Galaxy is not science fiction. If you read my report, you would learn it is partially masked by the Milky Way. While it is a fairly small galaxy, its impact is huge, as it is actually getting closer. Its inhabitants would be curious about what kind of beings live here; dull ones that shrug with cynicism, or sharp ones that would be tough to conquer without sufficient losses. There will come a time, maybe not in the next few years, but soon when you will find that out, that you had a chance.”

“That’s enough,” said Mrs. Evans, stomping back and turning in a huff toward the blackboard. “Mr. Phipps, Tommy, I am writing your name here to remind me and let the class know you will have a detention Monday for this lack of respect. And another thing…”

She turned back and found the classroom empty. No sign of the boy. No sound of footsteps. He never came back to school, soon forgotten by the kids who found him weird. Sometime later, sooner than he predicted, events would unfold, events almost unimaginable to everyone on the planet, save a retired school teacher.